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Indigenous Books for Senior Grades
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Indigenous Books for Senior Grades

By 49th Teachers
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Teachers who are looking to include more novels from Indigenous authors for their senior students (grades 11–12) should consider the following books.
Moon of the Crusted Snow

Moon of the Crusted Snow

A Novel
edition:Audiobook
also available: Paperback eBook

 

A daring post-apocalyptic novel from a powerful rising literary voice

With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow.

The community leadership loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tire …

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A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 HILARY WESTON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2019 BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL • CBC • CHATELAINE • QUILL & QUIRE • THE HILL TIMES • POP MATTERS
A bold and profound meditation on trauma, legacy, oppression and racism in North America from award-winning Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott.

In an urgent and visceral work that asks essential questions about the treatment of Native people in North America while dr …

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Excerpt

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

He took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose the way men in movies do whenever they encounter a particu­larly vexing woman.

“I’m really confused. You need to give me something here. What’s making you depressed?”

His reaction made me think briefly of residential schools, though at the time I couldn’t understand why. Maybe it was the fact that he operated his therapy sessions out of a church. That certainly didn’t help.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Can a metaphor or simile capture depression? It was definitely heavy, but could I really compare it to a weight? Weight in and of itself is not devastating; depres­sion is. At times it made me short of breath and at times it had the potential to be deadly, but was it really like drowning? At least with drowning others could see the flailing limbs and splashing water and know you needed help. Depression could slip in entirely unnoticed and dress itself up as normalcy, so when it finally took hold others would be so surprised they wouldn’t know how to pull you to safety. They’d stand there staring—good-intentioned but helpless. Empathetic, perhaps, but mute. Or, as in the case of this particularly unqualified ther­apist, angry and accusing. Not that I necessarily blame them. I’ve done the same thing.

When what was left of my family moved to the rez we lived in a two-bedroom trailer—my sister and I in the smaller room, my three younger brothers in the master bedroom. My parents had no bedroom, no bed. They slept in the living room on the couch and recliner. As one may assume of such circumstances, privacy was precious, if it existed at all. Doors never stayed closed for long; at any moment someone could barrel in unannounced. This meant there was no place for my mother to hide her illness.

I’d mostly known her as having bipolar disorder, though she’d been diagnosed and rediagnosed many times. Postpartum depression, manic depression, schizophrenia. Most recently, my mother has been diagnosed as having either schizoaffective dis­order, which is a version of bipolar disorder with elements of schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder, depending on which doctor you talk to. None of these phrases gave her relief. In fact, they often seemed to hurt her, turning every feeling she had into yet another symptom of yet another disease.

What these words meant to my siblings and me was that our mother’s health was on a timer. We didn’t know when the timer would go off, but when it did, our happy, playful, hilarious mother would disappear behind a curtain and another would emerge: alternatively angry and mournful, wired and lethargic. When she was depressed she’d become almost entirely silent. She’d lie on our brother’s bottom bunk and blink at us, her soft limp limbs spilling onto the stained, slate-coloured carpet. I’d sit on the floor beside her, smooth her hair—bottle red with grey moving in like a slow tide—and ask her what was wrong. She’d stay silent but her face would transform. Damp, swollen, violet, as if the words she couldn’t say were bubbling beneath her skin, burning her up from the inside.

Terminology is tricky. Initially, depression was known as “melan­cholia,” a word that first brought to my mind a field of blue cornflower and golden hay. Its trochaic metre gave it an inher­ent poeticism, an ingrained elegance. It was delicate, feminine. Hamlet’s doomed lover, Ophelia, definitely did not suffer from depression. When she floated down that river, decked in gar­lands, stones in her pockets, she was in the throes of melancholia.

The term first appeared in Mesopotamian texts in the second century BCE. At the time, they considered melancholia a form of demonic possession. They weren’t alone: ancient Babylonian, Chinese and Egyptian civilizations all attributed mental illness to demons overpowering the spiritually weak. Exorcism—which often entailed beatings, restraint and starvation—was the only known “cure.” Even during the Renaissance, when thinking about depression began to reflect the more progressive views of the early Greek physician Hippocrates, a heavily Christian Europe had another way to describe those with mental illness: witches. They were “cured” by being burned at the stake. Sometimes, as part of their trial, suspected witches underwent an ordeal by water. They were tied to a rope and thrown from a boat. If they sank they’d be pulled back to a safety of sorts, their innocence proven, but their illness unchecked. If they floated, like Ophelia, they were considered a witch and sum­marily executed.

My quite Catholic mother believes demonic possession is a real danger. She pretty much used the 1973 film The Exorcist as an instructional video for my siblings and me. It was mostly effec­tive. I played with a Ouija board only once, reluctantly, and though I remained firmly in control of my body, I still try to avoid the game (and pictures of Linda Blair) at all costs. I know demonic possession is impossible, probably, but it still scares me more than I’d like to admit.

So when my mother, now living in an adult care home in Florida, told me she was hearing demonic voices and thought she needed an exorcism, I was legitimately terrified. Not because I thought she was possessed—she didn’t mention anything about floating above her bed, and her voice sounded normal. I was scared for her. She truly believed demons were real and could take control of the spiritually weak. If she believed she was being overtaken by these demons, logic dictated that she was spiritually weak. As if her depressed mind didn’t have enough to guilt her with.
She wouldn’t tell me what the voices were saying to her. She just reiterated over and over that she was a sinner, that she had impure thoughts, that she hadn’t been going to church enough. None of this seemed to me like enough reason to call in an exorcist.

Evidently her priest down in Florida disagreed. He said it did, indeed, sound like she was in the midst of a spiritual battle, that she should contact the church about sending an exorcist right away. Though he himself was part of the Catholic Church, he never offered any assistance with her “spiritual battle,” never offered to bring in an exorcist to slay her inner demon. He just gave her his half-baked opinion like a torch and watched as she caught flame.

As far as analogies go, comparing depression to a demon is a pretty good one. Both overtake your faculties, leaving you dis­connected and disembodied. Both change you so abruptly that even your loved ones barely recognize you. Both whisper evil words and malformed truths. Both scare most people shitless.

According to Diane Purkiss’s The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations, European colonists widely considered Indigenous peoples to be devil worshippers. In fact, during the Salem witch trials, the people of the Sagamore tribe were blamed—described by early Puritan minister and master­mind of the witch trials, Cotton Mather, as “horrid sorcerers, and hellish conjurors . . . [who] conversed with Demons.” One person on trial claimed to have attended a black mass with the Sagamore Indians. Mercy Short, another accused witch, took it one step further: she claimed the Devil himself was an Indian, describing him as “not of a Negro, but of a tawny, or an Indian color.”

Literal demonizing of Indigenous people was a natural exten­sion of early tactics used to move colonization along. In 1452 and 1455 the Catholic Church issued papal bulls calling for non-Christian people to be invaded, robbed and enslaved under the premise that they were “enemies of Christ.” Forty years later, when Christopher Columbus accidentally arrived in the Americas, European monarchs began to expand on the ideas contained in those bulls, issuing policies and practices that have been collectively referred to as the Doctrine of Discovery. These new policies dictated that “devil-worshipping” Indigenous peo­ples worldwide should not even be thought of as humans, and thus the land they had cared for and inhabited for centuries was terra nullius, or vacant land, and Christian monarchs had the “right” to claim it all. The Doctrine of Discovery was such a tantalizing, seemingly guilt-free justification for genocide, even U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson adopted it as official policy in 1792—and we all know how much Americans wanted to distinguish themselves from Europe at the time.

The Doctrine of Discovery is still cited in court cases today whenever Canada or the U.S. want to shut up Indigenous tribes who complain. In an attempt to stop this lazy, racist rationale, a delegation of Indigenous people went to Rome in 2016 to ask the church to rescind these papal bulls. Kahnawake Mohawk Kenneth Deer said that after hearing their concerns, Pope Francis merely looked him in the eye and said, “I’ll pray for you.” Two years later, after the delegation’s second trip to Rome to discuss these papal bulls, they were told the matter was being sent to another committee. Nothing else has been done, though pre­sumably the Pope is still praying for us.

“Can you imagine going to a funeral every day, maybe even two funerals, for five to ten years?” the chief asks. He’s giving a decolonization presentation, talking about the way colonization has affected our people since contact. Smallpox, tuberculosis, even the common cold hit our communities particularly hard. Then, on top of that, we had wars to contend with—some against the French, some against the British, some against either or neither or both. Back then death was all you could see, smell, hear or taste. Death was all you could feel.

“What does that type of mourning, pain and loss do to you?” he asks. We reflect on our own losses, our own mourning, our own pain. We say nothing.

After a moment he answers himself. “It creates numbness.”

Numbness is often how people describe their experience of depression.

I was sixteen when I wrote my first suicide note. I was alone in my room, for once. It was cold; the fire in our wood-burning stove must have gone out. I was huddled beneath the unzipped sleeping bag I used as a comforter, listening to the only modern rock station my ancient radio could pick up. The songs washed over me. My brothers laughing, crashing and crying washed over me. My mother half-heartedly yelling at them while she watched a movie with my sister washed over me. My father’s absence washed over me.

Even though the trailer was full I was alone. I was alone and I felt nothing and it hurt so much. More than grief, more than anger. I just wanted it to end.

Tears fell on the paper faster than I could write. It was hard to read in parts. I didn’t care. As long as it reassured my family they shouldn’t blame themselves, it would do the trick.

I looked at the knife I’d smuggled from the kitchen, pressed its edge to my wrist. Nothing happened. The blade was too dull. I’d have to stab hard and slash deep just to break the skin. I was crying so hard.

I reread my note. I looked back at the knife. Even though it could hardly peel a potato it scared me more than the void I felt.

I lay back down, disgusted with myself and my lack of resolve. I tried to listen to the radio. I couldn’t hear anything.

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Indian Horse

Indian Horse

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook Audiobook (CD)

Winner of the Canada Reads People's Choice award and the First Nations Communities Reads program and short-listed for the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award.

A Globe and Mail top 100 book of 2012

Saul Indian Horse is dying. Tucked away in a hospice high above the clash and clang of a big city, he embarks on a marvellous journey of imagination back through the life he led as a northern Ojibway, with all its sorrows and joys.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through …

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Seven Fallen Feathers

Seven Fallen Feathers

Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook Audiobook

The groundbreaking and multiple award-winning national bestseller work about systemic racism, education, the failure of the policing and justice systems, and Indigenous rights by Tanya Talaga.

Over the span of eleven years, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario. They were hundreds of kilometres away from their families, forced to leave home because there was no adequate high school on their reserves. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior, below …

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Excerpt

It’s early April and the 2011 federal election is in full swing. All over Canada, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are duking it out with Jack Layton’s New Democrats and the struggling Liberals in a bid to win a majority government.

I’m in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to see Stan Beardy, the Nishawbe-Aski Nation’s grand chief, to interview him for a story on why it is indigenous people never seem to vote.

The receptionist at the NAN’s office greets me and ushers me into a large, common meeting room to wait for Stan. Everything in the room is grey — the walls, the tubular plastic tables, the carpets. The only splash of colour is a large white flag with a bear on it that has been tacked to the wall.

The Great White Bear stands in the centre of a red circle, in the middle of the flag. The white bear is the traditional symbol of the life of the North American Indian. The red circle background is symbolic of the Red Man. His feet are standing, planted firmly on the bottom line, representing the Earth while his head touches the top line, symbolic to his relationship to the Great Spirit in the sky. The bear is stretched out, arms and feet open wide, to show he has nothing to hide.

There are circles joining the bear’s rib cage. They are the souls of the people, indigenous songs, and legends. The circles are the ties that bind all the clans together.

These circles also offer protection. Without them, the ribcage would expose the great bear’s beating heart and leave it open to harm.

Stan walks in and greets me warmly, his brown eyes twinkling as he takes a seat.

Stan is pensive, quiet, and patient. He says nothing as he wearily leans back in his chair and waits for me to explain why exactly I flew 2,400 km north from Toronto to see him and talk about the federal election.

I launch into my spiel, trying not to sound like a salesperson or an interloper into his world, someone who kind of belongs here and kind of does not. This is the curse of my mixed blood. I am the daughter of a half-Anish mom and a Polish father.

I ramble off abysmal voting pattern statistics across Canada, while pointing out that in many ridings indigenous people could act as a swing vote, influencing that riding and hence the trajectory of the election.

Stan stares at me impassively. Non-plussed.

So I start firing off some questions.

It doesn’t go well. Every time I try to engage him, asking him about why indigenous people won’t get in the game and vote, he begins talking about the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Jordan Wabasse.

It was a frustrating exchange, like we were speaking two different languages.

“Indigenous voters could influence fifty seats across the country if they got out and voted but they don’t. Why?” I ask.

“Why aren’t you writing a story on Jordan Wabasse? He has been gone seventy-one days now,” replies Stan.

“Stephen Harper has been no friend to indigenous people yet if everyone voted, they could swing the course of this election,” I continue, hoping he’ll bite at the sound of Harper’s name. The man is no friend of the Indians.

“They found a shoe down by the water. Police think it might have been his,” replies Stan.

This went on for a good fifteen minutes. I was annoyed. I knew a missing Grade 9 indigenous student in Thunder Bay would not make news in urban Toronto at Canada’s largest daily newspaper. I could practically see that election bus rolling away without me.

Then I remembered my manners and where I was.

I was sitting with the elected grand chief of 23,000 people and he was clearly trying to tell me something.

I tried a new tactic. I’d ask about Jordan and then I’d swing around and get him to talk about elections.

Then Stan said: “Jordan is the seventh student to go missing or die while at school.”

Seven.

Stan says their names: “Reggie Bushie. Jethro Anderson. Paul Panacheese. Curran Strang. Robyn Harper. Kyle Morrisseau. And now, Jordan Wabasse.”

He then tells me the seven were hundreds of miles away from their home communities and families.

Each was forced to leave their reserve simply because there was no high school for them to attend.

“Going to high school is the right of every Canadian child,” says Stan, adding that these children are no different.

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Split Tooth

Split Tooth

edition:Paperback

Longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Shortlisted for the 2019 Amazon First Novel Award
Shortlisted for the 2019 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize
Winner of the 2019 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Prose in English
Winner of the 2018 Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design – Prose Fiction
Longlisted for the 2019 Sunburst Award
From the internationally acclaimed Inuit throat singer who has dazzled and enthralled the world with music it had never heard before, a fierce, tend …

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Excerpt

1975

Sometimes we would hide in the closet when the drunks came home from the bar. Knee to knee, we would sit, hiding, hoping nobody would discover us. Every time it was different. Sometimes there was only thumping, screaming, moans, laughter. Sometimes the old woman would come in and smother us with her suffering love. Her love so strong and heavy it seemed a burden. Even then I knew that love could be a curse. Her love for us made her cry. The past became a river that was released by her eyes. The poison of alcohol on her breath would fill the room. She would wail and grab at us, kissing us, kissing the only things she could trust.

Fake-wood panel walls, the smell of smoke and fish. Velvet art hung on the walls, usually of Elvis or Jesus, but also polar bears and Eskimos.

The drunks came home rowdier than usual one night, so we opted for the closet. We giggle nervously as the yelling begins. Become silent when the thumping starts. The whole house shakes. Women are screaming, but that sound is overtaken by the sound of things breaking. Wet sounds of flesh breaking and dry sounds of wood snapping, or is that bone?

Silence.

There are loud pounding footsteps. Fuck! Someone is coming towards us. We stop breathing. Our eyes large in the darkness, we huddle and shiver and hope for the best. There is someone standing right outside the closet door, panting.

The door slides open, and my uncle sticks his head in.

Towering over us, swaying and slurring. Blood pouring down his face from some wound above his hairline.

“I just wanted to tell you kids not to be scared.” Then he closed the door.
 

a day in the Life
 
It’s 9 a.m., late for school
Grade five is hard
Rushing, stumbling to get my pants on 
Forgetting to brush my teeth  
Dreading recess
The boys chase us and hold us down
Touch our pussies and nonexistent boobs 
I want to be liked
I guess I must like it 
We head back to class
The teacher squirming his fingers under my panties 
Under the desk
He looks around and pretends he’s not doing it 
I pretend he’s not doing it
He goes to the next girl and I feel a flash of jealousy 
The air gets thinner and tastes like rot
School is over
I leave for the arcade
Watch out for the old walrus
The old man likes to touch young pussy 
We try to stay away
I wonder why nobody kicks him out 
Things are better at home now
Three’s Company and a calm air 
Archie comics and Lego 
Goodnight

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Birdie

Birdie

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Paperback Hardcover

A CBC Best Book of 2015

A National Post Best Book of the Year

A CBC Writers to Watch 2015 Selection

Finalist for CBC Canada Reads 2016

Finalist for the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award

Finalist for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize

Finalist for the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction

Finalist for the Evergreen Award

“Twisting, darkly funny, heartbreaking, sometimes brilliant.” —Publishers Weekly

Bernice Meetoos will not be broken.

A big, beautiful Cree woman with a dark secret in her past, Bernice, known …

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Jonny Appleseed

Jonny Appleseed

edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook

2021 CANADA READS WINNER

WINNER, Lambda Literary Award; Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction

Finalist, Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction; Amazon Canada First Novel Award; Indigenous Voices Award; Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award; Firecracker Award for Fiction

Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize

A Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year

A tour-de-force debut novel about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to …

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